INSIGHT: The Next Gen learning curve for pit crews

Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images via NASCAR

INSIGHT: The Next Gen learning curve for pit crews

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: The Next Gen learning curve for pit crews

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Like Fiedler, Masterson agrees the bigger, heavier gun is the most significant difference. Especially when it comes to getting the lug tight.

“That’s something we’re still trying to figure out,” Masterson said. “Finding that number of what’s tight and for what racetrack because something that’s supposed to be tight at Dover is not necessarily the same thing we’d do at Martinsville.”

During pit stop practice at Charlotte, the Childress teams took the time to check the torque on the wheel. It went something like this: perform a pit stop in live time and release the car, then when Austin Dillon drove back around and parked in the box, check everything over. Or perform a stop, and if something looked or went wrong, stop right then and there to walk through what they’d need to do. Fielder even had a notebook, and crew members huddled together after each stop.

As crew members become familiar with their new tools, it’s been interesting to hear how little they feel the pits stops are changing. The concept of a pit stop is the same, and Holcomb doesn’t believe fans will notice anything out of the ordinary, saying it will still be five crew members running around in mass chaotic form that somehow works out beautifully. Over time, it’s likely stops will get quicker as teams adjust.

There are a few changes, though. Next Gen sits lower, so don’t be surprised to see fuelers having to adjust their stance. Plus, there is less room between the fueler and the tire changer because of a shorter rear quarter-panel.

Next Gen is also louder than the sixth-generation race car, which is noticeable for a crew member because the air gun is quieter. No longer is there the high-pitched squeal of the gun as it takes off five lug nuts or as the RPMs are revved up as a car comes into the pit stall. Don’t rev up the gun at all, Childress pit crew coach Ray Wright advised.

“You’d want to run out to the right side with the guns cranked up rolling (but) this one you cannot do that,” said Wright. “So you take a changer who’s been doing that for 10 years, and they’ve been taught to get those RPMs cranked up on the gun, and now, don’t crank it. When you come off (the wall), make sure the gun is quiet. That’s a big change.

“When we were running the five lugs, we could hit that lug with the gun turning however many RPMs we’d want it to turn. Now, if we do it, it’s not going to lock up on the lug on the wheel. It’s just going throw a bunch of sparks. It’s going to just spin. You’ve got to engage it, and then you turn it.”

The air gun designed for the Next Gen is quieter and has a unique feel, which is another major adjustment for pit crew members. James Gilbert/Getty Images via NASCAR

Something Wright’s noticed through pit practice is the wider tires roll differently. During one pit stop, Wright thought a right front was going to roll down pit road, but instead, it “came back” to the team. Wright said it’s a matter of how they’re balanced, and it’ll be something they continue to study.

Film study and pit practice are going to be crucial over the next few months. Wright was glad to see NASCAR offer teams the chance to perform stops at Charlotte and wouldn’t turn down the change for his team suit up. Of the 22 cars that participated in testing, the Childress group was one of only four teams that took advantage of the opportunity.

“We go from February to November. That’s the longest season, I think, in sports,” said Wright. “Usually, at this time, we try to get the guys a break, but man, there is no break time.”

Wright gave his teams a break on Friday before a day of film on Monday. Then it is back to work before enjoying Thanksgiving.

“They’ll come back, and it’ll be rep city,” said Wright.

A guy like Holcomb is OK with that. While he admitted it’s a bit sad pit stops are changing, its evolution is what brings him back for another season.

“Got a new challenge,” said Holcomb. “Why not?”

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